Chairperson Sen. Lathrop and Judiciary Committee Board Members
District #12, Room 1103 State Capitol
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
February 3, 2022
Dear Senator Lathrop and Judiciary Committee Members,
My name is Jasmine L. Harris. I am the Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for RISE. I request that this testimony be included as part of the public hearing record that shows RISE is in support of LB1031.
RISE is the largest nonprofit organization in Nebraska focused solely on habilitative programming in prisons and reentry support. At RISE, transformation starts pre-release and continues post-release. Our inside/out model bridges incarceration to the community and considers all the critical steps in that journey. We prepare and train people for each phase through intensive character development, employment readiness, job creation through entrepreneurship, family programming and case management. We transform people in the community by building awareness and empathy that leads to support and opportunity. These connections heal families, create employment pathways and lower recidivism. The mission of RISE is to break generational cycles of incarceration.
Communication between an incarcerated person and their loved ones has been noted as having positive impacts on better health, improving relationships and decreasing recidivism. Prison Policy Initiative conducted a literature review of empirical studies. What these studies revealed is that over 80% of the respondents used phone calls as a method to communicate with loved ones.1 One of these studies was from 2014, where RTI International and University of Delaware examined the impact of communication with loved ones on recidivism rates. What they found was that the individuals in the study that had contact with a family member by phone were less likely to return to prison within the five years after being released.2
In order for individuals and their families to make these phone calls and keep these connections, they first have to deal with how much it is going to cost and if they have the means to pay for it. Advocates across the country have been working for years to ensure that private companies and correctional facilities do not charge high rates and unnecessary fees for these calls. Nebraska’s Department of Corrections has set a precedent in the state by keeping the per minute cost low and not accepting kickbacks from phone companies. Because of this, phone call costs have been lower and allowed more families to stay in touch. County jails should follow suit.
In 2021, I was charged $1.80 + tax for up to 15 minutes of talk time. Sounds reasonable because that would make it $0.12/minute. There was an additional $13.19 transaction fee added to the call as well, essentially making this call $15 or $1/minute. I have since heard that this transaction fee has been
lowered, making calls more affordable. There are counties that have not adopted the lower costs for their phone calls nor dropping those extra fees. LB1031 would ensure that the price per minute and fees within contracts are capped; making sure people can stay in contact with their families.
I spoke with a few individuals about their experience with communicating with a loved one in a county jail. Here is what was said:
You have a loved one who is isolated wanting to communicate with someone that will be supportive of them, to encouraged them while confined. Them being able to communicate with the outside world gives them a sense of belonging to that world. When you have a person with limited funds it takes away from their strict budget. I could only afford $20 per week to go not only towards phone calls, but snacks as well. I give what I have because I want them to know they are loved and here for moral support. Our mission is to break generational cycles of incarceration. Keeping the lines of communication affordable for families helps in achieving that goal.
For these reasons, RISE supports LB1031 and asks that committee members vote this bill out of committee to General File.
Jasmine L. Harris, MPH, CHES
Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, RISE
1 Research roundup: The positive impacts of family contact for incarcerated people and their families
2 Reentering Women: The Impact of Social Ties on Long-Term Recidivism